YPulse data shows that Gen Z and Millennials love fast food restaurants—and they’re not ashamed of it. In our Food Shopping & Trends report, 94% tell us they’ve eaten fast food in the last month, 89% say they’ve gone to a fast casual restaurant, and 83% say they’ve been out to casual dining restaurants. And our Cooking and Diets report shows 70% of Gen Z and Millennials say they eat out / order take out an average of three times a week. So, knowing they’re eating at fast food and chain restaurants so often, which are their favorite to frequent?
Our data shows that Gen Z especially treat foods they’ve been eating their whole lives as their go-to, meaning their faves have stayed consistent over the years. And though Millennials consider themselves adventurous eaters, they share the same top fast food and chain restaurant preferences as the younger generation. When we ask 13-39-year-olds what their favorite chain restaurant or fast food place is, and why, as an open-ended question, their top picks are the same they’ve loved for years—but for more reasons than you might expect:
What is their favorite chain restaurant or fast food place?
- Taco Bell
- Burger King
- Tim Hortons
McDonald’s is (still) young people’s favorite fast food chain
Of all chain restaurants and fast food places, McDonald’s once again takes the top spot for Gen Z and Millennials. And when we ask why this is their favorite, young people have all the best things to say about McDonald’s. One 34-year-old female tells YPulse McDonald’s is their favorite because it has “Good taste, [it’s] famous, fast customer service, you can find [it] anywhere, [and there are] a lot of restaurants around the city.” A 24-year-old male says the nostalgia factor is part of its appeal, because they “Grew up on it, [and] also it always tastes so good to me every time.” Members of Gen Z say the familiarity aspect is big too: one 16-year-old male says McDonald’s is their fav because “I’ve eaten there for a long time, I’m familiar with it. Also the food is good.” And of course, the price is a huge appeal, as one 31-year-old Millennial mom puts it, “It is cheap and always reliable.”
Not only does this brand have legacy loyalty and convenient prices on their side, but young consumers also consider their food fresh, and genuinely delicious. One 13-year-old male tells us McDonald’s is their favorite “Because they use natural ingredients in their food making.” Another 29-year-old Millennial mom says, “The foods are delicious and fresh,” and because our data shows 70% of Millennial parents agree they’ll feed their children fast food, we can expect McDonald’s to become a Gen Alpha fav in the future.
Most of their faves are true fast food—beating out fast casual and sit-down dining
With McDonald’s topping the list, the rest of young peoples’ faves are also mostly tried and true fast food places. Both gens chose Chick-Fil-A, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell—in that order—as their next top favorites, too, and the rest of the list rounds out with other assorted fast food staples. Though we asked which are their favorite fast food or chain restaurants, few fast causal or casual dining restaurants made the top of the list, with only Subway and Chipotle breaking up the top 10, along with Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons. Farther down the list, Olive Garden makes their top 14, followed by Applebee’s ranked 18th, making them the only two sit-down chains in the top 20. Our data shows that young people truly are happy to eat fast food, even when there are other options available. In fact, when we ask if they’d rather eat at McDonald’s or Chipotle, 59% chose McDonald’s, further proving that fast food is beating out fast casual for these gens.
And when we ask why they chose their favorite fast food place, their reasons mainly have to do with their personal dining experience. Naturally, the prices and convenience fuel their love for fast food. A 35-year-old Millennial dad tells us Burger King is their favorite because “I love the product and offering they have and most importantly the price.” Another 25-year-old female says Taco Bell is their pick because “It’s cheap and delicious.” Quality service was also a selling point for many favorites: A 20-year-old female said their favorite fast food restaurant is Chick-Fil-A because “The workers are always super friendly when they take my order. The service is very quick and the food is always fresh and delicious.” But, as is mentioned alongside the many others, their driving biggest factor is…
Taste is the main driver behind their favorite fast food spots
Of course, the affordability, nostalgia, and accessibility factors are amongst the main reasons young consumers flock to their favorites. But make no mistake, our data shows taste is the number one factor when they’re deciding what to eat, and these top favorites satisfy that driving factor—the words “tasty” and “delicious” were easy to come by in their responses, and often were paired up with the other qualities. For example, one 26-year-old male says Chick-Fil-A is their favorite because “It just has the best service and the best food.” But taste alone is driving some favorites, as one 18-year-old female says Popeyes is their favorite because “It is very delicious. The chicken is so good it is to die for.”
And like their thoughts on the fresh taste of McDonald’s ingredients mentioned above, young consumers see these delicious options as well made: one 24-year-old female says Wendy’s is their favorite fast food restaurant because “They are amazing on their food quality and freshness.” And in that same vein, some consider their favorite fast food stops healthy options, especially those with a range of menu options. One 17-year-old male tells YPulse Taco Bell is their favorite because “It’s good and relatively healthy, especially if you order one of their healthier options.” So, in addition to all the other reasons young people love fast food, they don’t feel it’s a guilty pleasure when they believe the quality of the food is up to their standard.